Thursday, June 23, 2005

Why is the Right Fighting Over Hillary?

I asked myself this question a week and a half ago. Gratifyingly, yesterday Rush Limbaugh echoed my perplexion with the reflexively pre-emptive retreat by some conservatives from the Ed Klein-authored tome The Truth About Hillary:

The media is creating a backlash about this book before the book even comes out. The book came out yesterday. This Klein guy is having a tough time getting on TV for any interviews. The press is not curious about what he's saying. They're circling the wagons trying to defend Hillary, but in addition to that - and this is where the similarity to the Durbin business came in. In addition to that a whole bunch of conservative pundits are out there in a race to see who can be first to impress the mainstream media that they are not right-wing wackos. "I don't abide this book. Hey, don't want me in with Limbaugh and those other guys," and I haven't said a word about the book....

Whatever is in the book is irrelevant because the press is not going to care to look into it as if it were a book about me or Tom DeLay or Bill Frist or George W. Bush or any other conservative. If it were a book about one of us, man, oh, man! It wouldn't be circling any wagons, and probably a bunch of conservative pundits would be joining the media and saying, "These are serious allegations. We need to look into this," because there's a certain element of the conservative punditry that lives and works and Washington, and they don't want to be thought of as anything other than über-intellectuals. They don't want to be thought of as reactionary right-wingers, and so they're in a race here to see which one of them can be first to the finish line to show people in the mainstream press that they have grown, and they don't like what's happening to this Hillary book at all. Certain pundits, media outlets on our side trying to establish their own objectivity and credentials with the left - not with the American people - by pouncing on this book, but it never works. Folks, it never works unless you keep it up like John McCain does. McCain, if he didn't make a career out of going on TV and savaging Republicans, they wouldn't love him. But he can't just do it once, because you do it once, you're not gonna impress the left, because in the liberal mind the conservatives are always going to be - like Dick Durbin believes - Nazis, Stalinists, and communists.
I said it a bit more concisely - "Here's a free clue, ladies and gents: we're in a political war, and we don't get brownie points for fairness or magnanimity" - but the point holds regardless.

Hearteningly, not every conservative pundit has drunk the Clinton kool-aid:

Edward Klein’s controversial new book about Hillary Clinton is "required reading” for people who care about politics, says Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley.

The commentator also counters media spin that the book is filled with gossip that even conservatives are shunning.

"This is not a scandal book intended merely to gratify the reader’s salacious interests,” Blankley writes about The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go to Become President.

"Instead, Mr. Klein has written a serious political and psychological biography of the most likely next Democratic nominee for president – and thus, quite plausibly I fear, the next president of the United States.”

The conservative pundit – who frequently appears on TV talk shows – writes in his column that Klein’s "heavily researched” book offers "more than a peek” into the mind of Hillary.

"And whether you like or hate Hillary, the inside of her mind is a fascinating place in which to rove about,” said Blankley. "Hillary haters will certainly find further evidence to support their sentiment.”

He adds: "Principled liberals, I suspect, will be deeply disconcerted by what they will find out about her mind in this book.”

John LeBoutillier, former GOP congressman and Newsmax columnist, calls Klein's book "a must-read for all of us who want to stop [Mrs. Clinton] from being president."

LeBoutillier also opines that it will have "virtually no effect" on Hillary's steamroll towards the presidency, which has pretty much been my take as well. I've frankly been indifferent towards this latest Hillariography, both because I don't need yet another book to tell me what I already know about the woman and because it's difficult for me to believe that there's anybody in the country that doesn't already have an opinion about her one way or the other. That there are anecdotes about Bill joking about "raping" her and another about her punching out a male classmate in the fifth grade for some perceived slight is unsurprising, anti-climactic overkill. Suffice it to say these are not nice people.

Dick Morris has been among those warning that subjecting Americans to another look at the real Hillary will have the same effect as that sort of thing always did in the '90s - making the Clintons even more popular. But lately even he isn't so sure:

[I]n his New York Post column today, Morris notes that new charges about Bill Clinton's ongoing infidelity threaten to compromise the new image of their "rehabilitated" marriage.

"The Ed Klein book – with its revelations of Bill’s current philandering – puts Hillary in a tough spot," the top political consultant says. "If she pretends not to notice, she looks like a fool at best and a conniving politician who values power more than having a good marriage at worst."

"But if she moves away from Bill in public," he warns, "she loses the stardust he sprinkles on her. Clearly the prospect of seeing him return to the White House is a key part of Hillary’s current popularity and she dares not put that in jeopardy."

This stems from an observation I've long made about the Clintons and their endless scandals: throughout Mr. Bill's reign, trouble always broke after elections, when they were firmly entrenched in the White House. Thereafter it was simply a matter of public relations management. In the here and now, Hillary isn't even re-elected to her senate seat yet, much less officially on the national campaign trail. To get back "home," she'll have to overcome all the obstacles hubby never really had to.

And then, of course, you have to judge the reaction of the Clinton machine itself to Klein's psychological fisking of his latest subject, which is as ferocious as any they've ever let fly at a perceived enemy:

The former first lady's [blase] reaction was a far cry from comments by her top aides in recent days, who Klein claims have been working overtime to shut down his radio and TV bookings.

"This is a book full of blatant and vicious fabrications contrived by someone who writes trash for cash," barked Hillary spokesman Philippe Reines. [sounds kinda French, doesn't it?]

"We don't comment on trash like this," said her husband's spokesman, Jim Kennedy.

On Tuesday Klein said the campaign to shut him up has succeeded with some hosts.

"A number of people who have booked me on TV and radio have already canceled," Klein told ABC radio host Sean Hannity. "And the reason they've canceled is because the publicity machine of the Clintons is hard at work."

The Clintonoids sound almost as vicious as...the conservative blogosphere. Which is interesting in the context of another observation Mr. Morris offered recently:

New York Senator Hillary Clinton has reached personal best in terms of national popularity, with 52% of Americans now saying they view her favorably - and only 37% disagreeing....

So, what accounts for the dramatic improvement in Hillary's numbers?

Morris says his former client can thank the GOP.

"Hillary's move to the center — including her frequent association, in public, with the likes of Newt Gingrich, Bill Frist and Rick Santorum — is clearly paying dividends."

"It is also likely that Bill Clinton's constant appearances with President Bush Sr. and his highly visible efforts for the tsunami victims are helping rehabilitate his wife's image."

Detoxifying Mr. Clinton's image is a key element in the former first couple's campaign to reclaim the White House. And with Bush family members now referring to the ex-president as "Bubba", "Bro" and "Son," the Clintons' upcoming visit to Kennebunkport is sure to sound like a family affair.

Having her husband become an honorary Bushie has paid off big for Bill and Hill, says Morris:

"In the Fox News poll, 38% of voters, including the vast bulk of Democrats, said that they would be 'enthusiastic' about seeing Bill return to the White House as 'first husband.'"

Before the Clintons sway any more of the public, he advises:

"President Bush needs to get his father to pull back on his public bobsey-twins identification with Bill and Republicans need to let Gingrich et al. know of their displeasure with his new found best-buddy relationship with Hillary."

The same thing applies to the rush of center-right bloggers to defend "honor" that that barracuda has never possessed in her long, miserable life.

As I wrote in the beginning, so I reiterate now: "[S]ilence and circumspection seem to me to be more than sufficient when fratricide breaks out on the other side of the aisle."